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#I Am Clarion

Sunday 19th September 2021 was commissioned by Mid Pennine Arts to make a series of portraits of Clarion cyclists as they converged on the last Clarion House just north of Nelson in Lancashire. The weather held fair and it was a privilege to photograph over 90 cyclists who celebrated Clarion Sunday. Many of these riders have contributed data of their journeys. In some instances they also photographed or filmed their rides for me to look at for the limited edition bookwork [link]. All participants have been included and many contributed their thoughts on the importance of the Clarion’s cultural heritage. This commission is part of Pendle Radicals, a wider look at radical thinkers and activists who have shaped not only the local landscape but the nation. I was also commissioned to mark these people and their importance with a series of stone etched panels.

As a devotee of cycling culture and fashion, I also designed a special musette for each cyclist, with the declaration #I_Am_Clarion emblazoned on it - filled with the limited edition publication and Clarion and Pendle Radicals goodies.As the beautiful banner says ‘Fellowship is Life’, ‘Socialism the Hope of the World’.

Foreword to the limited edition publication #I_Am_Clarion

As an artist I’m a collector of stuff. I’m to be found buying things on eBay that will at some point in the future inform or appear in a project at an appropriate moment. These invariably include old maps, photographs and in particular ‘lost negatives’. Amongst my collection, there are numerous cycling related items. When Mid Pennine Arts approached me to discuss working on something to celebrate Clarion Sunday 2020, I immediately began to think of my old cycling maps and the journeys that have been made to Clarion House over the many decades.

At this point my engagement was loosely titled ‘Fellowship of the Wheel’ after William Morris’ reference. I began immersing myself in the Clarion culture and then suddenly we were engulfed by a pandemic. I’d just bought a gravel bike before lockdown and took the opportunity of my one hour daily exercise routine to explore the tracks and paths around the Mersey Valley on my doorstep, as a way of escaping the confines of the city. 

As Clarion Sunday drew nearer it became clear that the event would have to be cancelled. I wondered about the route I might have taken on my new bike if I’d been riding there, and made a little video exploring the journey from my home to Jinny Lane. Partly inspired by the fly-throughs of Tour de France stage previews, it was a reminder of the varied landscapes we inhabit on our bikes, and a gentle nod to the celebration that couldn’t happen. A ride from a city, through its industrial heartland, out to the wide open countryside. Very much a journey referencing the liberation and mobility the bicycle gave the working classes in the formation of those first Clarion clubs. I launched the video online the morning of the 14th June 2020, the day we should all have been gathering at Clarion House. [link]

Somehow a year was lost to limited riding and Clarion Sunday 2021 was again delayed. Almost a year to the day of my video, mainstream press began running stories that the National Clarion Club had voted to remove references to socialism from its constitution, ‘after a majority of members decided it was “divisive and non-inclusive” and could alienate new members.’

As someone who believes strongly we are informed by our geographies, whether these are physical or metaphorical, it seemed particularly sad that those formative links were being written away, it’s what makes Clarion Cycling so unique – its USP in modern terms.

The commission suddenly took on a different energy. On two previous projects, I’ve adopted a character’s persona in making a piece of work (a journeyman footballer in one, and an engineer/photographer in another), and I began to do the same with this piece of work. I made a simple declaration #I_Am_Clarion and began sharing it on social media. I combined old glass negatives of cyclists with the statement and also made self portraits, using a 100 year old camera. I created a limited edition printed musette with the message as a visible yet abstract statement of identity. It was about sharing a pride in the heritage. I became a fully paid up Clarion cyclist, kit and all.

Others began using it in their social media, a club produced a bike frame sticker using the declaration. I realised, despite not riding with Clarion groups on club runs, I felt part of something, I had a shared identity and commonality.  

Making this book is a small reflection of what being part of Clarion means. It appears the original foundations of the Clarion message may sadly not be universally acceptable, with some cyclists seeing the word ‘socialist’ as having negative connotations. But the basic belief and principle that society needs to be fairer and more just is increasingly prescient, and for that alone, its socialist roots and spirit should not be forgotten, indeed it should be widely celebrated.

It was a privilege to finally make this piece of work through the Pendle Radicals project funding, to collaborate with Charles Jepson, who has been so supportive in preparation, and to meet all the participants. I thank you for your time and written contributions, you have all made this what it is: a collective piece of work.

I look forward to riding out to next year’s Clarion Sunday and just being part of it, come rain or shine.

Alan J Ward

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